White settlers had moved into the Allentown area in the late 1600’s. However, it was not until 1706 that Nathan Allen built a gristmill, near the present mill on Doctor’s Creek and the village became known as Allen’s Town.
Because Allentown lies astride the waistline of New Jersey, it was a stopping place for travelers and stagecoaches between New York and Bordentown. From Bordentown boats were taken down the Delaware to Philadelphia. One of the foot travelers in the early days was probably Benjamin Franklin when he ran away from home in Boston.
The beginnings of the American Revolution in Allentown may be dated from 1767 when the Rev. McKnight of the Presbyterian Church stirred up resentment among his congregation when he prayed for the King. Mr. McKnight was forced to resign from the pulpit. Later, he became an outspoken opponent of the crown and eventually died from the harsh treatment received as a prisoner of the British.
Fortunately, Allentown was spared the destruction of battle, but the area it served was in turmoil for years with the infighting between those loyal to King George and the Patriots. It also experienced raids by Pine Robbers—who did not care whom would win the war, but robbed and murdered at will.
During the battles of Trenton and Princeton, the village changed hands three times. First, Colonel Von Donop, after the defeat of the Hessians at Trenton on December 26 in 1776, marched from Mt. Holly to Princeton. He arrived at Allentown on the afternoon of December 27, 1776 and encamped. The march to Princeton was via the Quaker Bridge Road, which was anchored to the lower York Road at Allentown.
On December 30, 1776, General Cadwalader of the Philadelphia militia marched through Crosswicks and Allentown toward Cranbury. Next, General Putnam from New England took over Crosswicks for the Americans and placed outposts in Allentown.
The Battle of Princeton followed on January 3, 1777. Legend is told of a Jinnie Jackson Waglum of Allentown leading Washington’s troops via the Quaker Bridge to Princeton, dressed as boy. [There was a Jane English Jackson whose father, Robert English, had previously owned the Mill and she was related to notable military officers in Monmouth, but her true story is still a mystery.]
On June 24, 1778, four days before the Battle of Monmouth, Sir Henry Clinton led the British Army’s evacuation from Philadelphia to New York through Allentown. Accompanying him was Lord Cornwallis—with Hessian Lieutenant-General Knyphausen’s division guarding Philadelphia’s loyalist booty and baggage in Imlaystown. News of the advancement of Washington on Clinton’s left flank forced him to change his plans during the night in Allentown, the next morning setting out on a forced march down the Shrewsbury Road [Rt. 524 E] for Sandy Hook. [Actually, Clinton had always planned to embark by Sandy Hook, Washington instead was reacting to Clinton’s change in course from the York Road.]
Notorious British spy Major Andre, prior to Clinton’s arrival spent the night at the home of Dr. James Newell—no known relation to the subsequent Governor, William A. Newell from Allentown. James Newell’s house stood where is now the Allentown Public Library, the former Baptist Church. Tradition holds that the old Christ’s Episcopal Church off Lakeview Dr. was used as a stable by the British. All that remains is the cemetery on a small rise directly across the pond from the Presbyterian Church, who first used this site for worship as early as 1720.
More tradition holds that Molly Pitcher of the Battle of Monmouth fame was born near Allentown or lived here during her younger years. Even to the extent of being given the name of Mary Hanna, daughter of John, a local linen weaver. Of course this contradicts many accounts that give her maiden name as “Ludwig,” although this has already been shown to be an error. Therefore, perhaps our own Mary Hanna was Molly Pitcher, or did the local legend confuse Jinnie for Molly?
What can’t be denied is that more New Jersey Courts of Admiralty where held at Allentown during the American Revolution than elsewhere. These Courts would determine the ownership of war spoils recovered through privateering—government-sanctioned piracy—along our coast. The Lower Tavern, today’s Woodys, was the site of many. Not surprisingly, John Imlay, builder of the notable Imlay House in 1790, owned many privateers, which most likely led to his being able to establish himself as a major trader in the East Indies—particularly at St. Eustatias, the Dutch free port. Imlay was also a Captain in the Philadelphia Light Horse regiment as well as a provider of military intelligence to the Continental Congress on the movements of loyalist spies.
[The preceding was paraphrased from “A Brief History of Old Allentown “ by Ellis F. Hull, former owner/editor of the Allentown Messenger]